At least once every day.
That’s how often I get asked, “What do you do?”
It makes me anxious when walking out my own front door. I know the question will come at some point of the day. I just don’t know when.
People feel the need to ask me, even as I’m sitting in a cafe in the middle of the day with my laptop open in front of me.
What do you think I do? This. I do this.
The worst part is that I’m never alone in the cafe. It’s always full of people on their laptops, some are just reading, some seem to be in a meeting and then once in a while, there’s that one person who only comes to drink a coffee and sit with nothing else to do.
I especially respect those people because they’re not trying to look like they’re doing something. Unlike me. I walk into the cafe and whip out my laptop as soon as I can, as if to let the world know that I’m busy. I have stuff to do. I’m not an unemployed 24-year-old, trying to write and “make a name for herself.”
Two years ago, when I graduated from an Ivy League University and went out into the real world, I had a job lined up. I had the opportunity to have my life set out for me, or at least, I had the opportunity to be an adult and take care of myself.
I didn’t take the opportunity.
I politely declined signing a contract to work in an amazing company because I thought I would regret not trying to strike out on my own first.
Well, it’s been more than one strike. And here I am.
If I can’t answer a simple question like, “what do you do?” then, how am I supposed to define myself?
Even worse, what’s my worth if I can’t define myself through a career?
Because, I know people care. They react differently depending on the answer. I know because I’ve tried.
I’ve said that I’m studying to be a doctor, I’ve said that I work as a corporate analyst, I’ve said that I’m in law school and I’ve said that I want to be an actress.
The difference in responses is laughable.
For a moment, I feel the respectability that a doctor or a lawyer must feel.
More often than not, I say that I’m a writer.
Then, comes the follow-up.
“What do you write?”
Because this answer also means something. It’s different if I say that I write for a newspaper than if I say that I’m working on my own movie script.
I try thinking of better answers or ways to deflect. But it doesn’t matter because before I leave my house and after I get home, when I’m already in bed with the lights turned off, I ask myself the same thing: “what do you do?”
And I still don’t have an answer. What I do know is this: I will not let my career, or lack thereof, define my worth.
I’ve realized that when people ask, they don’t actually care what you do. It’s not about you; it’s about the person asking the question. They want to know how you measure up against them. They want to know how the next seconds or minutes of your conversation will go: how much of their time they actually want to invest.
So, you can lie or you can say the truth because it doesn’t matter. Our careers don’t define us, they’re only a fraction of who we are. Thankfully, we’re so much more.